H is for heritage

This year celebrates 25 Years of Glorious Gardening. Like all great gardens West Dean has seen many changes from its peak in the Edwardian era, through long decline during the twentieth century. Following the devastating storms on 1987, husband and wife team, Jim Buckland and Sarah Wain, began the painstaking renovation of the gardens to their full glory. The overall aim was to work within the historic framework while building on the many diverse characteristics.

West Dean Gardens are listed Grade II* on the National Heritage List for England (NHLE) and have featured in television programmes for the BBC including Glorious Gardens From Above; The Great British Garden Revival; and Escape to the Country amongst others.

Gardens such as West Dean contribute to the conservation of the national heritage and design landscape, and demonstrate the UK's heritage craft of horticulture.

Edwardian Pergola and Sunken Garden

Designed by British architect, landscape architect and garden designer, Harold Peto (1854 to 1933), and over 300 metres long, the pergola was extensively restored following the 1987 storm, and can be viewed from a wide range of angles. It is host to many varieties of clematis, rose and honeysuckle.

The gazebo at its west end has a floor of knapped flints interspersed with horses' molars. Interior herbaceous borders are planted with a wide variety of hostas, pelargoniums, ferns, iris, dicentras and spring bulbs. The amphitheatre to the north is used for theatrical open-air performances in the summer period.

The recently restored Sunken Garden, at the eastern end of the pergola gives the area an intimacy and sense of shelter, in marked contrast to the spaciousness of the surrounding lawns. The garden is a winner of the Sussex Heritage Trust Landscape and Gardens Award.

The planting has been designed to provide fragrance and flowers throughout the summer months.

Victorian glasshouses

These splendid glasshouses were all built between 1890 and 1900 and were completely derelict before their restoration in the early 1990s. They are magnificent examples of Victorian craft and ingenuity. They are repainted on a four year cycle; the exteriors over summer, when the weather is kinder, and the interiors over winter, when the glasshouses can be emptied. In addition, they are hand scrubbed from top to bottom, inside and out, each winter, a process that takes two tolerant gardeners two months to complete. There are thirteen glasshouses in total. Because of their age and despite restoration it has become necessary to commence a programme of completely rebuilding the timber superstructures of the glasshouse range. This will ensure their survival for another century. Find out more about the appeal and how you can help us to save our precious glasshouses.

There is always colour on display from the large collection of plants including exotic plants, orchids, strawberry plants, figs, nectarines, peaches, gourds, grapes and melons.

Did you know?
The glasshouses are heated by a woodchip burning boiler which also heats the College and associated buildings using woodchips produced from West Dean Estate's commercial forestry.

Spring and Woodland Garden

Parts of this area date back to the Regency period, including a series of flint bridges. The rustic summerhouse at the westerly end has been restored to its early 19th Century glory with moss walls, seaweed decorations, heather ceiling and thatched roof and makes a perfect spot for a quiet rest. The laburnum and ivy tunnel makes a shady walkway in the summer sunshine.

Surrealist tree sculptures

At the west end of the spring garden, two fibreglass tree sculptures, created by Edward James can be found. Edward James's gardener, Ivan Hicks, said Edward wanted to perpetuate trees that had to be felled from disease and old age by 'encapsulating' the standing timber in fibreglass, thereby creating a tree that would never decay. He asked sculptor Ralph Burton to undertake the work on the two trees in 1972 and 1974. The timber has since rotted, leaving the fibreglass shells, forming surrealist tree sculptures around the original trunks.

Fruit collection

There has been a recent resurgence of interest in old orchards and apple varieties. Sadly, increased competition from imports in more recent years forced English growers to concentrate on a handful of good commercial varieties. The wealth of varieties once grown commercially lingered on in derelict orchards, declining Estate gardens and in the back gardens of cottages and houses across the country.

West Dean Garden's celebrated apple collection is housed within and around the walled garden. There are over 100 varieties of apple and 45 varieties of pear, including heritage varieties with links to West Sussex, many of them trained into exquisite traditional shapes, and our aim is to:

  1. To grow any variety that we know was grown at West Dean between 1890 and 1914 when the walled garden was at its peak.
  2. To grow a wide variety of Victorian varieties as this is the period of the development of the walled garden.
  3. To grow both earlier and modern cultivars, to display as wide a range of varieties as possible.
  4. To grow all of these in as many diverse ways as possible including half standards, four-winged pyramids, goblets, oblique cordons, espaliers, palmette verriers, and cross-bars.

The bulk of the walled garden fruit was planted in the mid-nineties.

25 Years of Glorious Gardening exhibition

Find out more about 25 Years of Glorious Gardening. A new photographic display in the 'old mushroom shed' tells the story of Jim and Sarah's renovation of West Dean Gardens (May to October). Entry free with a gardens entry ticket.

Apple Store

The walled garden, which was fully restored in 1992, is entered through a gate in the west wall on the south side of the early 19th century, circular flint Apple Store with its conical thatched roof and is Listed a Grade II summerhouse on the Historic England Register.